I guess they were what you’d call cool girls. Cool for 15. They were each attractive in their own way, supremely self-assured and clumped up all together in a little clique by the side of the high school pool.
There were four of them. Their practice started in 20 minutes.
It was a typical afterschool swim club practice, which meant I was sitting in the stands enjoying my book but attentive to what was going on.
I’d look up from the Churchill biography to make eye contact with my darling little minnow, the 9 year old, when she’d glance in my direction and smile while waiting her turn to ascend the diving platform.
I’d smile back.
I love her with my whole heart.
She is surrounded by other similar sized boys and girls and one older boy who towers over them in size and maturity. He is bigger even than most of the adults.
I know nothing of his situation but am observant enough to speculate.
He is unfit and has been told competitive swimming will dramatically change his body shape. He is eager to do this so he submits to the adolescent indignity of standing in line with children who are roughly half his age and size.
He’s trying so hard, but the changes he’s seeking — and this is a lesson some of us never learn — take time and dedication.
I admire him and the parents who gave him this wise counsel.
I cannot gauge his desperation to be liked or accepted for who he is, but few are the junior high school students who revel in being all alone in what for many is the most difficult years of their foundational lives.
He emerges from the pool with great difficulty. His muscles aren’t strong enough to lift his full girth from the water and he just sort of inelegantly flops out and unfolds his frame to its full 6-foot-1 height.
He has a shy smile as he walks toward the cool girls right in front of me. He makes direct eye contact with each, comes to a stop, and chirps out one word in a bird-like voice.
They pretend they don’t hear him.
He says it again.
It is as if he doesn’t exist.
He walks away. The girls give each other nervous glances. Who does he think he is?
But the boy is blessed with persistence. He makes another lap, struggles out of the water and again approaches.
It happened just like that three more times.
He walks away and this time he does not return. He is defeated. The girls share mean little smiles.
And my heart breaks.
For him, sure. What happened to him was tough to watch, let alone endure.
But it also breaks for the cool girls.
Because I have been cursed with prophesy. I can see the future.
The hair-twirling blonde will be the prettiest girl in high school. The attention she gets for her fine appearance will convince her youthful looks never fade. About this, she is mistaken. In 10 years she will be married to her high school sweetheart, a popular football player. He will spend the next 20 years cheating on her with a succession of younger, prettier girls until divorce lawyers are summoned.
She will spend long hours looking in the mirror and realizing every day for the rest of her life it’s all been downhill since the 2018 senior prom.
The one with the cute pony tail will enjoy a successful administrative career at a nearby university. She’ll find satisfaction in her job, but she’ll wonder if something’s missing. The first marriage didn’t work out. He was a drinker, a mean one. She spends long nights at the office intermittently checking match.com profiles of men who invite prospective dates to come over and cook them dinner. She remembers the one guy who asked if she was good with laundry. She gets together with friends for lunch once a month. They sit around bitching about what jerks men are.
The perky girl will get married and raise a family. She will love her children with fierce devotion, but as the kids get older and find their own diversions she will wonder what happened to the man she married. He’s so distant. He comes home from work and turns on the Penguin games and never even asks about her day. How could he be so indifferent? Doesn’t he know how much it hurts to be ignored?
The fourth girl will get everything she’s ever dreamed of. She will marry a kind, handsome man. He’ll be a good provider, attentive to her emotional needs and will relish spending time with the kids. They will raise these bright, beautiful children with love and wisdom.
And some night, many years from now, she will recall how cruelly she treated that awkward open-faced boy who just wanted someone to acknowledge his existence.
And there in that bed she’ll share with the man she loves, she will shed tears of soulful regret.
“How,” she’ll wonder, “could I have been so mean? What was I thinking?”
I should have said something about simple manners, about our common humanity.
I should have said, “C’mon, just say hello. You don’t have to kiss the kid. Just be nice. Be human. Show him a little kindness today and, guaranteed, 30 years from now he’ll make your day by telling you at your high school reunion he remembers how sweet you were that day when he felt he was all alone.
“That kid could grow up to be someone special. But you need to understand being nice now will make a difference in your futures, too. You have a chance to make the whole world better and you’re letting it slip away.”
To my everlasting disgust, I said nothing.
What’s the worst that could have happened?
That these cool 15 year old girls would have snickered at my little lecture? That they’d have ignored me?
I like to think at least I’d have been in good company.
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